Simple string instruments first began to epitomize the sound of Appalachian folk music centuries ago, when immigrants from across the British Isles arrived in droves.
Today, many are still mesmerized by the sound of the dulcimer, a simple three or four-stringed instrument that was originally brought to the Appalachian region by Scots-Irish settlers in Kentucky more than two centuries ago.
On Monday afternoon, people flocked to downtown Jonesborough during the first day of Dulcimer Days, a weeklong festival devoted to celebrating and appreciating this rustic folk instrument through workshops and live music.
Organizer Don Burger said the purpose of organizing the festival, which started out only as a small weekend event three years ago, was to resurrect the popularity of an instrument once taught in schools and played in local parlors.
When the Scots-Irish immigrants were first crafting their original dulcimers, Burger, who holds an appreciation for the instrument’s simplicity, said they “were using whatever they had and their love of music.”
“We know that it is arguably the only original American settler instrument,” Burger said. “We’re really looking at the mid-1800s when they first started showing up in East Tennessee.”
Though dulcimers have become a fixture in many homes since then, few people play them or maintain them anymore. Burger said many of today’s dulcimers have been handed down through the generations only to be used as home decorations.
“There are thousands of dulcimers in the homes of residents in the area that they mostly don’t play,” he said. “They don’t know what to do with them, so they hang them up on the wall because they’re beautiful.”
Hugh Byrd, a festival attendee who arrived to show Burger the dulcimers he’s crafted, came to learn more from Burger about how to play the instruments he makes.
“I’ve made seven in my workshop. I’d like to be able to play them like he plays it,” Byrd said of Burger’s eclectic picking style developed from his experience playing other folk and bluegrass instruments.
Dulcimer Days events will be held until Sunday. For more information, visit www.jonesborough.com or call Burger at 828-553-7543.
TUESDAY, MAY 15
11 a.m.-2 p.m.: Make Your Own Pottery, Barb Cara
One-40-Four Gallery, 144 E. Main St.
Noon-5 p.m.: Dulcimer Troubadour, Don Burger as "Jeremiah Potter"
Noon at Storytelling Library at Mill Spring Park
2 p.m. at Paul’s Pens, 105 Fox St.
4 p.m. at Tennessee Hills Distillery, 127 Fox St.
WEDNESDAY, MAY 16
Noon-1 p.m.: Renaissance Strings from Kingsport
1:30-2:30 p.m.: Cloudland Circle Dulcimers from Roan Mountain and Hands On Drawing/Painting with Caroline Lowery
7-8:30 p.m.: Soothing Evening Dulcimers
THURSDAY, MAY 17
2-4 p.m.: Make Your Own Pottery: Noriah Shaw and Stephanie Nichols
Boone Street Market, 101 Boone St.
2:30-4:30 p.m.: Hands On Drawing/Painting with Tom Root
Root Studio, 139 1/2 E. Main St.
Musical Appetizers: Don Burger
Downtown Sweet, 137 E. Main St.
5-8 p.m.: Tasty Guitar and Dulcimer Music with Phil Ling and Don Burger
FRIDAY, MAY 18
12:30-1:30 p.m.: Needle Felting Demonstration with Deb Burger
1:30-2:30 p.m.: Land of Waterfalls Dulcimer Players
Chuckey Depot Museum, 110 S. 2nd Ave.
7-9 p.m.: Music on the Square, featuring
"Thistle Dew:" foot-stompin, Celti-lachian Trio!
Tull Glazener: Dulcimer Master Extraodinaire!
Courthouse (Rainout location: The Corner Cup)
SATURDAY, MAY 19
9-10:30 a.m.: Experienced Dulcimer Players Clinic with Tull Glazener
10:30 a.m.-Noon: Beginning Dulcimer with Tull Glazener and area instructors. Bring a dulcimer, or borrow one of ours for the clinic
1:30-3 p.m.: Experienced Players Clinic Part 2
4-6 p.m.: Eureka Inn's "Root Beer Garden Gala!" Locally-sourced sodas and other goodies, home-brewed dulcimer music with Tull Glazener and more.